Can you hear me, Major Tom? I'm stuck in Omikron!
The great quest in computer gaming is for the 'holy grail' of complete player absorption. The game should be an alternate life, an escape fantasy in which the player completely loses all conception of earthly self and simply plays the game. The ideal game world should be a truly alternate reality, as interactive as can be while creating the illusion of limitless possibilities.
Omikron: The Nomad Soul is the first game I've ever seen that approaches that goal, and thus far is the best single player gaming experience of the year.
Omikron sinks you (or rather, your soul) into the city of Omikron in a parallel universe. Initially placed in the body of Investigating Agent Kay'l of the Omikron Security Forces, you have to find out why Kay'l so desperately contacted you through your computer screen and requested the soul transfer. You must uncover the dark mystery behind this strange world and set things straight or lose your soul trying. If you don't beat the game, you are damned for eternity. Talk about motivation!
Revealing too much of the plot would kill the game, as Omikron is set up as a highly cinematic experience in which the sense of mystery and a great deal of well-directed in-game movie sequences help the game along immensely. Suffice to say, the plot (which technically begins when you first hear about the game) is an extensive epic comprised of technocratic and mythological elements. What you'll find is a deeply engaging (albeit a little cliched) story that will keep you enthralled right until the end.
In the world of Omikron, your options abound. You can follow the story and vanquish evil, or you can just put that on the back burner and hang out at your apartment admiring you pet lizard, listening to David Bowie music, and watching commercials and bad soap operas on the Transcam (3D TV). Hell, you can even buy groceries, have sex with Kay'l's wife (is that cool or what?), purchase some erotic posters, eat lunch, and catch a strip show at the local nudie bar (no, this is not a porn game - there is no actual nudity).
Continuing the concept of "do whatever makes sense within the game world" is Omikron's gameplay system. This is an excellent adventure game that is primarily controlled from a third-person perspective. You basically run around the 3D world, hang out, look for clues, have conversations, solve puzzles - the typical adventure game stuff. And, refreshingly, there are often multiple paths for solving individual problems, enhancing the replay value of what would normally be a one-shot wonder.
Aside from the puzzles, some events call for armed or unarmed combat, at which point the game enters into either a First-Person Shooter or Fighting Game mode (fear not, you can define mode-specific control schemes). Admittedly, the FPS game and the Fighting game are noticeably low on flash compared to most dedicated games of the respective genres. However, they expand and enhance what is already a fantastic game.
The FPS and Fighting game modes fit in perfectly with the rest of the game. They are exactly what combat should be, from a realistic point of view, in the world of Omikron. They act to further expand the sense of limitless abilities, which is so very much a part of what makes Omikron an incredible game.
Also, actions between game modes compliment and affect one another. For instance, you might have to get some money from the desk in your apartment in order to buy a book on advanced fighting techniques that will help you get the skills to win cash at a local combat tournament. This in turn will let you buy more guns and ammo to help you get through the next shooter sequence. The overall effect is an utterly pleasing synergy of disparate game styles into one completely engrossing experience.
Eventually, no matter how good you are, you will die. When that happens, the next person to touch you gets possessed by your soul and you may control them. So as not to be at the mercy of foolishly curious bystanders, you eventually gain the ability to posses other people at will, choosing from about 40 total posses-able reincarnations. For example, you might be inhabiting a nurse, but to infiltrate a secure facility you 'enter' a guard. In certain situations, death can mean failure and damnation. But overall virtual immortality is the rule.
Graphically, Omikron is stunning. You'll find a fully rendered city, complete with pedestrians, traffic patterns, aircraft flying overhead, and thematic district-specific styles that run the gamut from Blade-Runner to Mediterranean to Venetian and beyond. What's more, Omikron features a number of cool special effects, such as chrome mapping and reflective surfaces. While the polygon counts on individual objects and people are fairly modest in order to preserve framerates, the final graphical effect is simply gorgeous.
Most striking of all is the way faces are modeled during conversations. Facial features are clearly defined and move in real time, conveying very convincing emotions. Lips even part when talking, revealing teeth. It's definitely a step up for creating convincing virtual actors in a computer game.
Also impressive is that Omikron actually perfected the camera system. Most of the time, the camera follows whomever you posses from behind. However, when you enter a room the camera swings around to show you the interior. Many places in the game feature pre-determined camera angles as if you were looking out from security monitors, much like a 3D Resident Evil system.
Aside from generally excellent sound effects and voice acting, the entire game is backed by an atmospheric musical score composed by David Bowie and guitarist Reeves Gabrels. It perfectly captures and defines the bizarre and mysterious ambience of Omikron. Even better are the eight songs composed by David Bowie that appear in the game both in the opening and closing credits. There are even a series of in-game concerts you can go to, complete with 3D modeled David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels on stage.
Omikron is a remarkable game. It creates what is easily the most believable, versatile, and alive game environment yet produced in a PC title and puts you right in the middle of it. Once you begin play you'll find yourself drawn into Omikron's unique world and gripping story, unable to play anything else, unable to think about anything else, unable to do anything else besides run to the store on a quest for David Bowie albums. This is the stuff that revolutionary games are made of, and unless something really amazingly amazing (anyone want to lend Johnny a thesaurus? - Ed.) manages to come down the pipe in the next two months, Omikron has my vote for game of the year.
Wanna see the game in action? Check out these official gameplay movies.